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“Creating Mobility, Flexibility, and Balance”
Focus on Pillar 3 of Performance Training


by: Jeff Higuera CSCS, CPT, HFI

I’m back once again focusing on the 6 pillars of performance development for basketball players. After a long layoff of writing these articles I knew I needed to get back to informing the loyal audience of powerbasketball.com with my next piece on performance training dealing with mobility, flexibility, and balance.

If you can recall, Pillar I focused on creating core stability and strength while Pillar II focused on developing quick strength through explosive resisted training. Pillar III involves three performance concepts that can be grouped together and performed together during your performance workouts. Let’s begin by briefly defining the terms mobility, flexibility and balance:

Flexibility and Mobility: The National Academy of Sports Medicine defines flexibility as, “the ability of the neuromuscular system to allow optimum extensibility of the appropriate tissues, while providing optimum neuromuscular control through that range of motion.” In easier explainable terms, this is the ability of your joints to go through their controlled full ranges of motion.

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Balance: Is maintaining static and/or dynamic postural control utilizing the body’s senses and feed back mechanisms (visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive senses). In other words, this is the ability to control your body’s center of gravity during movement.

We’ve all heard or even know that you have to become more flexible, more mobile, maintain better balance while playing basketball but why? We are taught that we are flexible if we can reach down and touch our toes and if we can’t then that deems us as inflexible. This article will explore what types of mobility and flexibility training should be used and why. And also why balance is important, and how it can take your basketball game to a higher level. Basketball is in my opinion the most athletic game you can play. Being an athlete requires much more than being bigger, faster, and stronger. Basketball requires grace, picture perfect motions, which paint a picture of the beauty of the game when these types of movements are used to dunk a basketball, or dribble through defenders, or make what looked like an impossible shot.

Let’s think about how we look at flexibility. Boring right? What is standing here and touching my toes going to do right? I say this because whenever I ask athletes the question, “how do you stretch before a game?” without even hesitating the players reach down to touch their toes. It’s time for this famous stretch to leave the basketball court and move over for some flexibility, mobility, and balance exercises that really make a difference in your performance. Most athletes go through what is called “static stretching” before they play in games or practice. This is where you all sit around in a circle with your teammates follow a stretching routine and talk about your girlfriends and what you did over the weekend. Recent research has suggested that static stretching (holding a stretch for 20-30 seconds) actually decreases performance in power athletes. When you hold a stretch for so long your brain actually stops sending the signal to that muscle to protect it from over stretching, which in turn shuts the muscle down. Studies have been shown that athletes actually jump higher before they execute these types of warm-ups.

So how do we increase our performance, warm our body up, and practice balance, stability, mobility, and flexibility all at the same time? We do this by performing the complete performance warm-up. The complete performance warm-up is broken down into 3 parts:

  1. Movement Warm-Up (jog, shuffle, carioca, backpedal…etc)
  2. Dynamic Stretching and Mobility (dynamic stretching and functional flexibility exercises)
  3. Specific Movement (lay-ups, ball-handling drills…etc)
This is how every basketball player should warm-up prior to practice or games. Don’t get me wrong static stretching is not bad. It is a great way to cool down after a game and re-lengthen the muscles that have been contracted and beat-up during a game or practice. Also, static stretching may be done before the game as well. However make sure that this type of stretching is done before you even begin number 1 in the complete performance warm-up.

The rest of this article will be explaining the benefits of these types of exercise and this warm-up as well as the exercises that you should incorporate into your complete performance training program. Here are the major benefits of Mobility, Flexibility, Balance, and the complete performance warm-up

  1. Mobility and Flexibility Increase Speed and Power: Practicing dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises will increase the number impulses to your muscles thus “turning your muscles on.” Along with this, increasing your joint mobility and flexibility will increase your muscle elasticity. Think about this. What can you shoot farther an elastic rubber band or a non-elastic piece of string?…The elastic rubber band, correct? Increasing your mobility and flexibility through a performance flexibility routine will increase your speed and power by increasing the elasticity and power of your muscles.
  2. Mobility and Flexibility Increase Efficiency of Movement: Basketball requires erratic change of direction, chaotic movements and reactions. These require the body to be able to cut, move, and react quickly. Improper mobility and flexibility in basketball players will greatly decrease the chances of moving fluidly during these chaotic movements. Your ability to control your body during deceleration, stopping on a dime, and then accelerating again have much to do with your muscles and joints ability to be controlled through their full ranges of motion. Mobility and flexibility exercise will greatly increase your movement efficiency and ability to perform as a sleek mover on the basketball court.
  3. Balance Increases Movement Speed and Efficiency: Balance in basketball has to do with the ability to control your center of gravity during dynamic movements. When you can control your center of mass over you center of gravity you have the ability change directions with greater precision and speed. Think about if you jump up off the ground to block a shot or grab a rebound. When you land and not properly balanced how easy is it to jump again or move quickly in another direction? It’s not. Landing off-balance always leads to poor movement transition and in many cases can lead to lower leg injuries. The ability to control your center of mass over your center of gravity at all times leads to greater transition of movements and efficiency.
  4. Balance Increases your Ability to Jump: Jumping as we all know is a major part of the game of basketball. If you can jump, play above the rim, your game has an element to it that not all possess. When preparing to jump the body must go through a series of events. The initial movement is the load where your body decelerates movement in the opposite direction of the jump. This load harnesses energy to be used during the jumping movement. This energy is then transferred into kinetic energy as the load is quickly reversed into the jump. In between loading and exploding is where balance and stabilization of the body come into play. The better balanced the athlete, the greater the stability the athlete has, and the greater stability the athlete has the greater force that they can produce between the loading of the jumping movement to the actual jump. A player who is balanced not only displays this in their jumping ability but also show this efficiency in many of these movements critical to basketball success.

Exercises for Establishing Mobility, Flexibility, and Balance
These exercises will help you begin establishing a mobility, flexibility, and balance. Add these exercises to your every day training regimen.

#1 Monster Walks: To increase mobility, flexibility, and balance in the hips and lower body
Execution: Begin standing straight up. Drive one knee up and step out as far as possible falling into a lunge. As you fall into the lunge take both hands and bring them inside your knee reaching out as far as possible.

Variations: Reach farther away from the down leg, reach right over the foot, reach over the down knee

#2 Lateral Lunge w/Reaches: To increase flexibility, mobility, and stability in the core, hips, lower extremity while moving laterally
Execution: Begin by dropping one leg into a lateral lunge. Make sure that both feet are pointed straight forward and at the bottom of the lunge your shoulder, hip, knee and foot are lined up in a straight line from the ground. Keep the stomach drawn in, butt back, and back flat. Use these simple reaching variations to change the dynamics of the exercise.

Variations:

  • Reach with arms straight out
  • Reach with arms across lunging knee
  • Reach with arms away from lunging knee
  • Reach with arms straight out to the ground
  • Reach with arms overhead.

#3 Rotational Lunge w/reaches: To increase flexibility, mobility, and stability in the core hips, lower extremity while moving the hips in the transverse plane (rotational)
Execution: Begin by dropping one leg back behind the other leg into a rotational lunge. The front leg foot should be pointed straight forward with the hips and shoulders also remaining forward. The back leg should be on the toe. Keep the stomach drawn in, butt back, and back flat. Use these simple reaching variations to change the dynamics of the exercise

Variations:

  • Reach with arms straight out
  • Reach with arms across lunging knee
  • Reach with arms away from lunging knee
  • Reach with arms straight out to the ground
  • Reach with arms overhead.

#4 Walk-Ups:To increase core strength and posterior full body flexibility, mobility, and balance
Execution: Begin in a push up position. Keep the stomach drawn in and glutes tight. Begin by slowly walking your feet up towards your hands. As you walk the hands up keep your palms flat on the ground. Walk your legs up to the point where you can go no further and then hold for 3-5 seconds. Slowly walk your hands back out to the push up position and repeat.

#5 Single Leg Squat w/Reaches: To increase balance, core and hips strength and mobility
Execution: Begin on a single leg. Keep the other foot 4-5 inches off the ground. Proceed to a single leg squat by drawing your stomach in, getting your back, and keeping your shoulders retracted and back flat. At the bottom of the squat hold for 2 seconds and return to starting position. Use these simple reaching variations to change the dynamics of the exercise

Variations:

  • Reach with arms straight out
  • Reach with arms across lunging knee
  • Reach with arms away from lunging knee
  • Reach with arms straight out to the ground
  • Reach with arms overhead.

#6 Single Leg Dynamic Calf Exercises: To increase dynamic flexibility and mobility in the sub-talar joint (ankle joint)
Execution: Begin by leaning into a wall with both feet flat on the ground where your calves are stretched at there max. Bring one leg straight up keeping the knee bent. From this position rotate the bent knee to the right and then back to the left working mobility through the ankle joint. As always keep your stomach drawn in, back flat, and shoulders back. Also make sure the down foot is stationary and is not moving with the hips

Conclusion

This article has given you the basics of what it takes to start developing explosive power to improve your performance as a basketball player. Remember that these exercises are NOT an exercise prescription and that you should consult with a physician before attempting any exercise program. Every athlete is different and every athlete must take his own individual approach when developing his athletic ability.

Jeff Higuera is the Sports Performance Team Leader for RDV Sportsplex in Orlando, FL. RDV Sportsplex opened in February 1998 and is a 365,000 square feet, $60 million state-of-the-art fitness, wellness, sports and recreation facility owned by RDV Sports and Florida Hospital. It features a full-service athletic club, tennis center, sports performance center; two ice rink center, pro shops, café, salon & spa and numerous medical offices. In addition, it houses the corporate offices and training facilities for the NBA's Orlando Magic. RDV Sportsplex is open to member and non-members.

You can contact Jeff via email at the following address: jhiguera@rdvsportsplex.com or by phone at 407.916.2518

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